The New York Islanders’ offense has struggled to start the season, scoring only 15 goals in six games for 2.50 goals per game. Offensive struggles aren’t new for the Islanders, as last season they only scored 2.71 goals per game, and the season-best mark under head coach Barry Trotz was 2.78 goals per game in the 2019-20 NHL season.
The Islanders are a defense-first team, but even with the offensive struggles of previous seasons in mind, the failure of the current roster to generate an offensive presence is concerning. Some of the issues are manageable, and can easily be fixed, but there are some weaknesses that leave Trotz and the coaching staff with an offensive unit that can ultimately become the team’s downfall in a competitive Metropolitan Division.
Pageau Line & Nelson Line Are Still Developing
The Islanders have the talent in the forwards unit to find four shifts that can generate offense. Unfortunately the Islanders have struggled to find the back of the net from their backend forward lines. Brock Nelson led the team in scoring last season with 18 goals, and was able to create an offensive zone presence alongside Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey. To start this season, the Nelson-led line has struggled to establish the same puck movement, and as a result, Bailey was moved to the top line, forcing Kyle Palmieri to play on the later shift instead.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau, on the other hand, has struggled altogether to start the season, and the shift he leads has played poorly as a result. He didn’t play in the 3-2 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, but in five games played has not found the back of the net, and only has two assists thus far. The Islanders’ third-line center is a great playmaker in the offensive end of the ice, and generally allows the entire shift to play better as a result, but early on that has not been the case and the offense as a whole has struggled.
Wahlstrom’s Skillset Being Put To Good Use
Oliver Wahlstrom has been one of the bright spots to start the season, scoring three goals and constantly finding scoring opportunities in the offensive zone. With three goals, Wahlstrom leads the Islanders in scoring along with Mathew Barzal and looks to have a career year in his young career on the forward unit.
The 21-year-old has displayed a unique skillset in the first few games this season with an accurate shot and strong play off the wing, but the question is, what shift the Islanders should play him on to optimize his play and the team’s offensive production? So far, Trotz and the coaching staff have played the young forward on the Pageau line, but considering Wahlstrom’s ability to finish off scoring chances, the Islanders might move him to the Barzal line at some point in the season.
The Islanders Have An Aging Roster
The Islanders’ average age is 29.5 years old, the oldest roster the team has put together since the 2006-07 season. Moreover, eight forwards are 30-years-old or older and only four forwards are 25-years-old or younger. The Islanders are an older roster that this ready to win now but the age is a concern for the offense over the course of an 82-game season with the team wearing down and possibly losing speed as the season progresses. Ultimately age can be the greatest concern for the offense and early on this season, some skaters have looked slow on the ice or not in a position to make the play in the offensive zone
Islanders Other Offensive Issues
Early on, it’s clear the Islanders miss defensemen Nick Leddy for more than one reason. Leddy was traded to the Detroit Red Wings in the offseason, and was one of the best two-way defensemen for the Islanders. Instead, the defensive unit is seeing a lot of ice time from veteran Zdeno Chara, who is playing great in the defensive zone, but is slow on the ice and not creating from the point, causing the offense to play poorly. Otherwise, the offense looks to improve in the upcoming games, and if the unit continues to struggle, Lou Lamoriello and the front office might have to acquire a forward at the trade deadline to help put the team over the top.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders for The Hockey Writers, a team that has turned themselves into legitimate cup contenders with Barry Trotz as the head coach. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink has written for multiple sports blogs and platforms covering the NHL, NFL, MLB and college sports.